Saturday Sermon: Biblical Marriage

This week starts what I am sure will be a multiple part series on “Biblical Marriage”. Please note, I am a middle-aged, single guy who has never been married, so take that as you will. Every time marriage comes up in the news media, some over-zealous religious nut will remind us that God defined marriage in the Bible as between one man and one woman. Well, he defined marriage alright, but he defines it in a lot of different ways.

This past week on the blog, we see the word “marries” for the first time in Genesis 24. This definition of marriage states that a father will send his servant out to his homeland (the father’s, not the servant’s) and pick out a woman that offers him and his camels water, put a ring on her nose and bracelets on her arms, and then pay off her family and take her with him where she may or may not ever see her family again. When he gets home, she will meet her husband-to-be for the first time ever and they will enter his dead mother’s tent and he will “know” her. They are now married. To quote my girlfriend, “Ah, rooooooomaaaaaance.” There is no priest, no reception, no open bar, no wedding band, no wedding at all. Just sex in a tent, that’s it.

A son can also be sent out to find a wife of his own at the urging his mother, provided the bride-to-be is also his cousin. There are also no limits on how many wives a man can take. He can two sisters, then take his cousin as a third (although, in the story I’m referencing, she was a half-cousin if that’s a thing).

So, to review, the “Biblical” definition of marriage:

  1. Father’s servant finds a wife for his son using camels.
  2. Man marries cousin.
  3. Man marries a pair of sisters and his own cousin.

I will keep a running list on the blog as I continue reading.

Announcements:

Same as the past few weeks, not much to report here. I am seeing an uptick in visitors which is what I was hoping for. I see some accounts liking posts that I’m not sure are actually reading them. Based on their subject matter, I’m pretty sure that they would object.

Genesis Chapters 26, 27, & 28

Chapter 26

What a way to start the second half of Genesis, with a story we’ve heard twice before. OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one, a married couple settle in a town as aliens, but the man is afraid that the townspeople will kill him so he says that his wife is his sister. Yeah.

Once again, it’s Abimelech who was on the receiving end of this deception, but this time it’s Isaac and Rebekah pulling it.

8 When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah. 9 So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, “So she is your wife! Why then did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought I might die because of her.”

Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Gen. 26, 8-9, p. 72). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

You would think that Abimelech would be wise to these shenanigans, but he’s not.

Isaac planted crops and reaped a lot more than he planted. He got rich with plants and flocks and herds and the Philistines hated him, so they cut off his water supply by filling in all of the wells that Abraham dug (or rather, Abraham’s servants). So Isaac moved and dug new wells (or rather his servants), but the shepherds told him that the water was theirs. This is pretty much the same story as it was in chapters 12 and 20. I hope we’re done with it now. One note  up to this point, according to the Oxford Bible Commentary, the Philistines that King Abimelech led are not the same as the tribe of Goliath.

Finally in this chapter, Esau ended up adding more fuel to my upcoming marriage sermon by marrying two Hittite women. Apparently, Rebekah didn’t like them, but we really get no elaboration on that.

Chapter 27

We come to the chapter where Isaac is old and wants to give his blessing to Esau, but he can’t do it yet because he wants to have a feast. Rebekah overhears the exchange and hatches a plan that involves more repetition about savory food such as his father loved. We all know the story, food, brother’s clothes, goat skins because Jacob isn’t hairy. Isaac, God’s chosen one whom he has blessed, is fooled by a kid in kid’s clothing.

Referring back to AJ Jacob’s book, The Year Of Living Biblically, the author talked with one of his rabbi consultants about this story. In Hebrew tradition, Jacob was the wise choice to inherit his father’s fortune. Esau was wild and erratic, and remember, he sold his birthright for stew. I hope that was the greatest stew that he ever ate in his entire life, because that’s all he ever got.

Anyway, Jacob was smart enough to hightail it before Esau came home. The good news is that Isaac eats twice. The bad news is that Esau was pissed. I do wonder how legal this story is. I mean, Jacob deceived his blind father into blessing him. Couldn’t Isaac rescind his blessing if he wanted to and call the sale of Esau’s birthright to Jacob for stew invalid? I might have to discuss this with a legal expert. Rebekah sends Jacob away to stay with Uncle Laban (her brother) in Haran until Esau gets over it…gets over losing his birthright for stew and losing his father’s blessing due to some strategically placed goat skins.

Chapter 28

There’s a ladder in this image.

Isaac officially blesses Jacob and forbids him from marrying a Canaanite woman and instead directs him to marry one of his cousins. I mean, I guess he has to keep it in the family. Also, hey, what’s wrong with Canaanite women?

Meanwhile, Esau married one of Ishmael’s daughters, which would make her his half-cousin, I guess. This means that he now has three wives.

Jacob sleeps at a “certain place” and has the ladder dream which is just more “I will give you this land” because of course he will. Also, Jacob uses a rock for a pillow (which is softer than many pillows I’ve slept on in hotel rooms) which he them poured oil on. He called the place Bethel even though this “certain place” was already called Luz. This chapter ends with another reference to tithing.

Genesis Chapters 23, 24, & 25

Chapter 23

Sarah’s death and burial could have been summed up in a few sentences and maybe a eulogy for her, but it’s all about Abraham trying to buy a field from the Hittites, where he lived as an alien. They offer him any land that he wants, so he asks for Ephron son of Zohar so he could get the sweet spot with a cave. Ephron gives it to him, but it sounds like an argument because Abraham insists on paying for it. They strike a deal and Abraham has himself a cave.

Judging by the translation, this story was a poem or a song in the original Hebrew. That explains the peculiar structure and the refrain of many of the lines. I still stand by my assertion that something should have been said about Sarah.

Chapter 24

Abraham is old. He makes his servant swear an oath that he will find Isaac a wife, but he can’t find the bride-to-be in the land of Canaan. Instead, he must venture back to Abraham’s homeland. The servant traveled there, came up with the contrived criteria that would determine the correct woman, Rebekah fit said criteria, he put a (nose) ring on it, paid off her family and she went with him. She met Isaac for the first time, they went into his mother’s tent, yada yada yada, they’re married.

I glossed over the story because it’s a lot of filler and repetition. The servant states his plan, then the plan work out perfectly, and then he recounts the plan and the outcome to her family. This is either bad writing or another poem/song.

The details leading up to this include the servant swearing an oath to Abraham which ends with the servant putting his hand “under Abraham’s thigh” which means “touched his junk” which is the way oaths were sworn. According to the Oxford Bible Commentary, this would be the equivalent of swearing one’s life. I just hope that biblical literalists don’t want to bring this tradition back.

This is the longest chapter in Genesis and is also the influence for the start of a new series of Saturday Sermons about “biblical marriage”. I won’t talk much about it here except to comment that the Bible will never be accused of being a romance novel.

Chapter 25

Abraham marries [takes] another wife and has six more boys and probably an untold number of girls which, naturally, is not talked about. He gave everything he had to Isaac and gave the other kids gifts and sent them to the east away from Isaac.

Abraham dies at the age of one hundred seventy-five and Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave that he bought at the beginning of this post. God blessed Isaac and then we get a genealogy of Ishmael, because those are thrilling to read.

Apparently, God can’t point in the general direction of a woman who isn’t barren and requires divine intervention. Anyway, Rebekah gets pregnant with twins and is told that she has two nations in her womb (that can’t be pleasant) and that the older one will serve the younger. Esau was born first and came out all hairy while Jacob followed on his heel (he was gripping Esau’s heel when he was born). Esau, who Isaac loved, was a hunter while Jacob, who Rebekah loved, was the quiet type. I really hope that the parents loved the other boy as well, because that would be poor parenting.

So one day, Esau was out hunting and came home to find Jacob cooking and sold his birthright for a bowl of stew in one of the most anticlimactic scenes so far:

Esau: I’m hungry, give me some stew.

Jacob: Sell me your birthright.

Esau: I’m really hungry…okay.

…and scene. We are now halfway through the book of Genesis.